Looking for a guide to the top things to do in Funchal? We've got you covered! We've just got back from a week exploring Madeira and have put together a list of our favourite fun and fascinating recommendations for your Funchal itinerary. From whale watching to tasting the world famous Madeiran wine, these are 10 unmissable activities you need to include on your Funchal trip.
Funchal, the capital of Madeira, is many people's first port of call when they visit the island. With an interesting history and a vibrant cultural heritage, you could easily spend a couple of days in Funchal before moving on: Explore its charming Old Town, wander through its narrow streets lined with centuries-old buildings and visit historic landmarks such as the Sé Cathedral and Blandy's Wine Lodge.
As well as a bustling waterfront, Funchal is also renowned for its lush green spaces. From colourful Municipal Gardens to the hilltop Monte Palace Tropical Garden and serene Madeira Botanical Gardens, you can escape from the busy city and find yourself surrounded by a kaleidoscope of colours, fragrances and amazing exotic plants.
Top 10 things to do in Funchal, Madeira
1. Explore the Madeira Botanical Garden - Escape the urban bustle and indulge your senses in the shady tranquillity of Funchal's Botanical Gardens. Explore a diverse range of indigenous and exotic plant species, stroll along scenic pathways and enjoy panoramic vistas of Funchal and Madeira's southern coastline. Particular highlights include an extensive cactus collection and the colourful "choreographed gardens" where red and yellow flowering bushes are arranged into impressive shapes and patterns.
You can get to Funchal's Madeira Botanical Garden by cable car from Monte (you can also buy a combined ticket to include the cable car up from Funchal) or by taking buses 29, 30, 31 and 31a.
Madeira Botanical Garden is open from 9:00 - 18:00
Tickets are €7.50 for adults , € 3.00 for 6 - 12 year olds ( under 6 free)
2. Go whale watching - Madeira's location in the Atlantic Ocean makes it an excellent spot for observing various species of whales and dolphins in their natural habitat all year round, from Bottlenose Dolphins to Sperm Whales. Funchal's marina serves as the main departure point for whale watching tours, and while there are numerous companies to choose from, we would recommend Magic Dolphin - they have a beautiful spacious eco catamaran with an onboard marine biologist and a bar selling drinks and snacks.
We were really impressed with Magic Dolphin's attitude towards responsible tourism (the eco catamaran has a silent electric mode which is much less stressful for wildlife, and the crew strictly follows guidelines like only observing marine life for 10 minutes at a time in order not to annoy them) and summer tours include a swim in the ocean beneath cliffs so don't forget your swimwear!
We've written a full review of our day with Magic Dolphin and more useful information about whale watching on Madeira which you can read here.
Disclosure - we were gifted a free catamaran tour in return for a blog, but all opinions are our own, and our reviews are always honest, whether we have paid for the experience or not.
Magic Dolphin's 3 hour eco catamaran whale watching cruise costs €30 for adults and €15 for children.
Trips run twice daily at 10am and 2:30pm.
3. Marvel over the Sé Cathedral's Mudejar ceiling - Built in the 1490s, The plain whitewashed exterior of Funchal's cathedral hides a real hidden gem - a stunning Mudejar knotwork ceiling. The Mudejar art style developed in medieval Andalusia, when Islamic art and architecture became fashionable among Christian patrons. The intricacy and mathematical precision of the shapes used in the ceiling reminded us of the tiled walls in Seville's Real Alcalzar!
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Sé is open Monday to Friday from 7:15 am to 6:30 pm, Saturday from 9 am to 12 pm and from 4 pm to 7 pm and Sunday from 7:15 am to 12:00 pm and from 4:15 pm to 7:00 pm. Check online for Mass times. Free entry!
4. Treat yourself to a posh ice cream from the Ritz - Choose from 32 delicious flavours of homemade gelato at one of Madeira's most elegant buildings, the Ritz. This grand cafe has been serving for over 100 years, and the building has also been home to the first Madeira chamber of commerce. Check out the historic blue and white tiles on the outside and take your ice cream cone for a stroll around the colourful Municipal Gardens opposite.
5. Take the cable car up to Monte - This former hilltop retreat for the wealthy has a relaxed village feel and the elevation means cooler, breezier weather, a world away from Funchal's tropical sea front. Take the scenic cable car up, enjoying panoramic views over Funchal's red roofed buildings, the blue Atlantic and the island's hilly green interior.
Top things to do in Monte include the magnificent Monte Palace Tropical Garden, the iconic Nossa Senhora do Monte Church where Habsburg Emperor Charles I of Austria is buried (exiled first to Switzerland in 1918 and then Madeira in 1921, he died of pneumonia in Monte a year later) and whizzing downhill in a traditional wicker basket toboggan, steered by two white clad men who use their feet to corner and break. It's worth noting that while the toboggans leave from the steps of the Nossa Senhora do Monte Church, your thrilling 15 minute descent will drop you off 2km away in the suburb of Livramento - if you're planning on taking a Monte toboggan ride, don't buy a return cable car ticket!
6. Sample Madeira's finest wines at Blandy's wine lodge - No visit to Funchal is complete without savouring the world-renowned Madeira wine. Pay a visit one of the island's most historic wine lodges to learn about the production process and enjoy a tasting flight of these unique fortified wines in the Max Romer bar.
If you want to take a tour of Blandy's Wine Lodge it is advised to book online in advance. The best selling Premium Tour (€12.50) is 45 minutes long and includes everything you ever wanted to know about Blandy's history, grape varieties, wine production on Madeira and cooperage, plus access to the family museum and two samples to taste.
Once you've finished your visit to Blandy's, take a stroll along leafy Avenida Arriaga. With its wide walkways and restaurants, this street reminded us of a miniature (and much less hectic) version of Barcelona's Las Ramblas. You'll also walk past lots of Madeira's most interesting historic buildings, like the Ritz (a good chance to get that ice cream we mentioned), the Bank of Portugal and the Military Museum, set within a 16th century fort.
Useful tip - if you'd like to take a bottle or two home with you, you can pay in the little shop out front of the wine lodge and they will give you a voucher to collect your wine at the concession in the airport. Located on the far side of security, this enables you to carry your wine onto the plane in a duty free bag rather than worrying about it breaking in your suitcase! Genius.
7. Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the Mercado dos Lavradores - Pay a visit to Funchal's bustling Farmer's Market, serving locals and tourists since 1940. With fertile volcanic soils and a sub tropical climate, Madeira grows a huge variety of food. You'll marvel at the colourful displays of fresh produce, exotic fruits and fragrant flowers, and don't miss the fish market at the back where you'll see Madeira's famed fearsome black scabbard fish and enormous tuna. This is a good place to pick up souvenirs - the market sold the cheapest magnets we saw anywhere on the island - but the tropical fruit offered to you by every stall holder is a rip off.
8. Wander the Old Town - A good way to begin your Funchal adventure is by wandering through the charming cobbled streets of the historic Old Town, known as Zona Velha. Admire the beautifully preserved 15th-century architecture, visit the impressive Sé Cathedral, and check out the street art on Rua de Santa Maria where many of the shop and restaurant doors have been transformed by colourful murals.
Grab a Prego no Bolo do Caco (Madeira's amazing steak sandwich served in garlic flat bread) and a Coral beer in a cafe, browse for souvenirs and check out interesting buildings like the opulent Jesuit church of Sao Joao Evangelista and the tiny Capela do Corpo Santo - this simple whitewashed fishermen's chapel with palm trees outside looks straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean!
9. Cool off at Funchal's Lido - The fact that Madeira is basically the tip of an ancient volcano in the middle of the Atlantic means that the rough and challenging waters that surround the island aren't safe to swim in due to strong currents and high waves, particularly on the northern and western coasts. Funchal's Lido facilities offer a serene and safe alternative to the ocean with two swimming pools filled with filtered seawater that is refreshed by the tides and a spacious sunbathing areas with sun loungers and umbrellas (extra charge). There is also a little kiddie pool and you're a short walk from numerous cafes, restaurants and ice cream shops.
Entry to Funchal's Lido is €5.50 for adults, 7-17 year olds are €1.90 and 0-6 year olds are free.
There is pay and display parking just behind the Lido.
Related content: For more amazing places to swim on Madeira, check out Natural Paradise: Exploring Madeira's 6 top natural swimming pools.
10. Face your fears at the Cabo Girao Skywalk - a bit of a cheeky entry as this glass floor observation deck is actually a 20 minute drive from Funchal, but we'd definitely recommend you including it in your itinerary while you're visiting the city. The Cabo Girao Skywalk juts out over the highest cliffs in Europe, a dizzying 589m above the Atlantic ocean and has amazing views!
Entry to Cabo Girao is €1.50 and the Skywalk is open between 9am - 8pm. We'd recommend visiting after 6pm to dodge the tourist coaches, otherwise the glass floor can be very crowded!
For more ideas for planning a trip to Madeira, the official tourism website is chock full of ideas.
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